Senior Leads Arbor Prep to New Heights

March 19, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Ypsilanti Arbor Prep finished its fifth season of high school girls basketball Saturday. Nastassja Chambers finished her fourth season on the varsity.

That makes her the first star in the program’s young history – and one that will be remembered for years to come thanks to the Class C championship she helped the Gators earn in her final high school game.

Chambers scored 14 points to go with three assists and three steals, and 10 of those points came as Arbor Prep put Traverse City St. Francis nearly out of contention during the first half on the way to a 53-37 title game win at the Breslin Center. 

Arbor Prep opened for the 2011-12 school year, and was first eligible for MHSAA Tournament play in 2012-13. Chambers has been part of the team for all of its postseason games, including two straight trips to Finals weekend, and for a combined run of 86 wins and only 15 losses.

“She’s someone to look up to, because no matter how much pain or how tired she is, she works hard,” Arbor Prep junior Adrienne Anderson said. “And that’s what she pushes us to do. And because she pushes herself, she’s in the position she’s in today. It’s an example that we want to follow.”

Arbor Prep (25-2) finished its final opponent this season the way it’s taken on a schedule loaded with top Class A and B programs all winter. 

The top-ranked Gators jumped out to a 9-0 lead, and after allowing the Gladiators to get back within three by the end of the first quarter, took off again to carry a 25-18 lead into halftime.

“We knew we had to come after them. We’re normally the team that always gets the lead, so we knew if we came out hard we could maintain the lead, and that would have them on their toes,” Chambers said. “And we knew once they called that timeout (with Arbor Prep up 4-0), we knew we had gotten in their heads."

The teams played almost evenly during the third quarter, with Arbor Prep taking a nine-point lead into the fourth – where the Gators turned on the jets again and changed up defenses a few times as they pushed the lead to as large as 18.

Arbor Prep took advantage of 29 St. Francis turnovers, scoring 33 points off takeaways, and had 16 fastbreak points to the Gladiators’ zero.

“I was worried early in the game, but I thought we’d adjust. They never let us. We never got in a rhythm. We never got in a routine,” St. Francis coach Keith Haske said. “Obviously that’s the best team we’ve seen this year. We got them a few times on the press, but obviously not enough to make a difference.

“Just watching them against Ithaca (in the Semifinal), they are just a little bit quicker than what we’re used to seeing. They’ve got more quick kids than I ever want to see in my life again. Usually when they have one or two quick kids, it’s OK. They’d take out three more, and three more came in.” 

Junior Cydney Williams added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Arbor Prep, which spread the scoring among seven players – with Chambers the only senior. Her contributions were not lost on the Gators once the championship ride was done. The 5-foot-8 guard will continue her career next season at Wayne State University and averaged a team-high 11.2 points per game heading into the week.

“These last two games she led us in scoring, but previous games in the state tournament she didn’t always lead us in scoring. She’s grown as a player, understanding you don’t have to lead us in scoring to be a good player, and I think that’s the biggest thing she got out of this season,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said.

“She’s’ always helped push us to our greatest potential, and when we’re down she helps pick us all back up,” Williams added. “She’ll always be there with a smile to help you move along.”

St. Francis, which played in its first MHSAA championship game and suffered its first loss since the second game of the season, also will say good-bye to only two seniors who played significant minutes Saturday – although they were the leading scorers.

Forward Annie Lyman had 15 points and center Lauren McDonnell had 10 points and six rebounds. Junior forward Juliana Phillips, a standout in the Semifinal, added nine points and 10 rebounds.

The Gladiators finished 26-2 and entered the postseason tied for No. 3 in The Associated Press' rankings.

“I’m just so proud of our team and what we accomplished this year together,” Phillips said. “We just love each other a lot. … This moment is as far as you can make it in a season. We’re all pretty sad it’s over, but super proud of what we did.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Arbor Prep players celebrate the first MHSAA championship in their school’s history. (Middle) The Gators’ Ro’zhane Wells drives to the basket with a pair of St. Francis defenders moving to clog the lane.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.